Who Ya Gonna Call? About Utility Bills

Last utility post, I promise! Today we’ll cover how we save on water, as well as services like phone, cable, and Internet.

On Water

Water is not a very expensive utility for us, but we’ve found ways to cut back on this precious resource.

  1. Your toilet is the #1 household user of water. If you’re like me and pee often, you might institute the old rhyming rule. I’ll just leave it at that.
  2. Wash not, want not. Your washing machine is mostly likely your #2 user of water. We don’t wash our clothes too frequently. Instead we re-wear our clothing if possible, except anything obviously stinky or dirty. Washing full loads is more efficient than smaller ones.

Clothes aren’t the only things we avoid over-washing. We rarely wash our cars. We only bathe the kids 1-2 times per week. We don’t shower every day. As far as I can tell, the notion that every person and clothing item needs to be washed every single day is a relatively modern cultural construct. Ben Franklin claimed cleanliness is next to godliness, but if he was anything like his contemporaries, he probably bathed only once per week at best.

3. We have a rain barrel. Our summer water bill used to go up by 50% in July & August because of our garden. Now we harness nature’s provision by collecting it in a rain barrel connected to one of our gutters. Naturally we got the barrel for free and rigged it up ourselves. Not only has our water bill gone down, our sewer bill (which is separate) is also noticeably lower.

In the garden, we’ve also employed soaker hoses to reduce the amount of water lost to evaporation. Timing watering in the mornings and evening also minimizes this. We have never watered our lawn.

4. Set back your hot water tank temperature. The EPA recommends setting it to 120. This change will show up in your energy bill. And it’ll prevent people from hurting their hands when ridiculously hot water gushes out of the faucet. (While you’re checking temps, set your fridge to 38 and your freezer to 0. Lower temps waste energy without preserving food differently.)

5. Having international friends, and visiting India and the American Southwest, really puts our water use in perspective. One friend would catch all the water in a glass while waiting for tap water to warm up. A Drop in the Bucket details another friend’s water use experiment. Her family of 5 carried all their water around the block before they could use it–for a month!

That’s it for water. Now let us abruptly transition to other utilities/services with a monthly bill. If I could sum up my advice on these, it would be to periodically call your providers to ask for better rates.

Call Me Maybe

About once a year I check in to ask if there is a better price available. Over time, I’ve saved hundreds of dollars by doing this, and the call is usually not too time-intensive.

Neil’s employer pays for his smartphone, and I have a dumb phone with a prepaid plan. I could shop around for a better plan now that the cell phone service market has expanded, but the headache of switching and the ROI time involved with getting a different phone doesn’t feel worth the $5 or $10 per month I’d eventually save. I might just hold out until my dumb phone becomes obsolete and I relinquish my identity as the last human on earth to have one. No doubt the day is drawing near.

Discount providers or family plans are good ways to save, as is monitoring your data usage.

Taming the Tube

We don’t watch much TV so it’s never made sense for us to spend a lot on it. For years we used the good-old-fashioned rabbit ears to receive a few basic channels. At $15 this purchase was well worth it.

Another “free” or cheap TV source is Amazon Prime. We’ve always qualified for Student or Family memberships (free or $39/year); apparently we are always in school or making babies. Sometimes Amazon offers a media credit if you opt for longer shipping times. We racked up some credits this way while Christmas shopping.

We’ll watch free stuff on Hulu, get DVDs from the library, borrow movies from friends, or occasionally rent a 99 cent video. If we want to watch streamed media on our TV instead of the laptop, we use a $3 HDMI cable (purchased on ebay) to connect the two. Check out this post comparing the cost of various streaming options.


Though the Internet is not actually a necessity, it’s become a non-negotiable for us. Our bill periodically increases without warning, and each time we call and negotiate it back down to $35/month.  It’s a pain in the neck but if we ask for promotions we always have good luck. Neil is better at this but I’ve also had success.

So who ya gonna call? When it comes to services like cell phone, Internet, and TV, it pays to call and ask for promotions, discounts, or better rates about once a year. Cite your loyalty over time, competitor’s prices, and any problems you may have experienced with the service. These savings add up across utility bills and over time to make a noticeable difference for us.

Who ya gonna call and save on utilities? How do you keep these costs down?


20 Responses to “Who Ya Gonna Call? About Utility Bills”

  1. Joe says :

    Depending on how much you’re paying currently, I think you’re underestimating the $ per month you might save by exploring different cell phone options. We got on a family plan with friends, cut our bill by 60-70 per month and got better phones. If it’s just you and your dumb phone you could also explore pre-paid plans. I worked with someone a few years ago that just needed talk and text and would buy the minutes every few months and paid next to nothing. Even saving a few dollars per month over the course of the year could add up to ‘rain barrel’ savings!

  2. Joe says :

    Ok, you’re already prepaid. Sorry I missed that!

    • Kalie says :

      I agree that the savings would eventually add up over time, but every option I find isn’t attractive enough to make the move. You’ve inspired me to keep looking, though. That’s great you’re saving $70 a month!

  3. Tawcan says :

    A good way to save water from toilet flushing is to put a filled pop bottle in the water tank so less water is used per flush. Or only flush the toilet after 3 or 4 pee visits. We’ve been without a TV & streaming subscription for 5 years now and we don’t miss it at all. It’s really weird watching shows on TV as we’re not used to all the moving pictures. 🙂

  4. Hannah says :

    We occaisionally purchase a month or two of netflix (mostly in the winter), but find that Redbox Weekends are just right for us. We watch football at friend’s houses.

    We also have a sattelite that hooks up directly to our computer, but this is only worthwhile to watch the Olympics.

    The fridge/freezer temps are good to check too. I definitely don’t like my fridge too cold anyhow, and frozen is frozen for the most part.

  5. Abigail says :

    We do without cell phones — both home all day every day — so that’s a big savings, and I finally killed our high landline bill by switching to Ooma. Yay!

    Unfortunately, Tim’s skin condition and joint pain make showering every other day untenable. He actually takes several showers a day to ease the ache in his bones and to numb his skin.

    Meanwhile, he also doesn’t wear clothes more than once. His skin feels dirty easily. I compensate by rewearing my stuff until I’ve sweated in it noticeably. Even then, when it comes to workout gear, I tend to just hang it somewhere to dry out.

    Plus I drink a ton of water, which means lots of toilet time. I *do* use the rhyme, which helps. And our new toilets use a lot less water than the old ones. For people who still have older toilets, put a brick or similar-sized object (filled with sand or water) in the tank. It raises the water line artificially to keep your tank using less. You really don’t need that much water, I promise.

    • Kalie says :

      That’s awesome that you save so much on your phone!

      Showers sound like a good, inexpensive therapy for Tim. I’m kind of the opposite–my dry skin doesn’t like too many showers. And they make my hair super frizzy. I think we re-wear our clothes more to save effort than money. But with little ones sometimes it’s just not possible. I did three loads in four hours during the last stomach bug.

      Good toilet tip–it’s crazy how much less water is used in newer ones.

  6. Amy says :

    We bit the bullet and cut cable a little over a year ago. However, we miraculously still get about 70 channels – FOR FREE! (Please don’t tell teh cable company…)

    I just called our internet provider a few days ago because our “promotional” rate had expired. I loathe doing this, but they’re the only game in town right now.

    • Kalie says :

      I won’t tell 🙂 That’s awesome!

      We don’t really have options when it comes to our internet provider. At least not good options. I’m hoping that, like cell phones, service will become more competitive. At least you’re on the ball with talking them down.

  7. James Pollard says :

    Wow, rain barrels aren’t illegal in your area? Cool! I don’t watch TV either (life is meant for living, not for watching), so I save money there too.

    This is a funny story about water bills – I was raised in a household that didn’t reuse towels. Towels were used one time and then washed. I didn’t even realize that people would take a shower and hang their towel back up. I didn’t know that was a thing. I wonder how much my family spent on their water bill….

    • Kalie says :

      Rain barrels are illegal in your area? That stinks!

      I’ve heard of families that wash the towels every time. There were 5 kids in my family so I don’t think that was a viable option.

  8. fehmeen says :

    I’ve seen toilets come with two ‘flush’ settings and it always amuses me. One button is ‘half strength’ water flow for ‘number 1’ and the other is ‘full strength’ water flow for cleaning up ‘number 2’. It’s a good idea though and I imagine it saves a lot of water over the course of 1 year.

    PS. What’s the rhyming rule? Will have to Google.

  9. Millennial Boss says :

    Ha I’ve never read the stat about the toilet! That could be a game-changer for me although I’m not sure how my fiance would feel about that!

  10. John K says :

    Our water bill is a fixed rate system. anything under 30k gals per quarter is a fixed rate (and sewer). So saving water to save water is a great idea but for economic sake it does not matter for us. And rain barrels are becoming an issue as people don’t cover them and they become a breeding ground for our state bird – mosquitoes.
    We have Charter for internet and phone – they are starting to NOT allow negotiations due to the number of folks cutting the cord. In a sense they are making up for lost TV revenue by charging more for the internets which folks are using more of – Netflix, Hulu, etc.

    • Kalie says :

      I never realized rain barrels were a problem some places, but ours has a built-in lid. I wouldn’t want extra mosquitoes in our yard, that’s for sure!
      I can see why cable and internet providers are raising rates to make up for lost revenue. But cable prices were outrageous so it makes sense that competitors met the need for less.

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